The Gaza War: A Caucus Race

The fact is that nobody has won, so nobody can have prizes.

Gwynne Dyer

“They began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over,” as Lewis Carrol put it in Alice in Wonderland. He was describing the Caucus Race, but it sounds quite a lot like the Gaza War, doesn’t it? What’s different is that at the end of the Caucus Race, the Dodo Bird declared: “Everybody has won, so all must have prizes.”

After nine days of more-or-less cease-fire, they’re at it again. In the first 24 hours, 60 Palestinian rockets had been launched at Israel (no casualties), and 60 Israeli air strikes had hit Gaza (11 dead). That’s pretty small beer in a war that has already killed more than 2,000 people, but they literally don’t know how to stop, and the Dodo Bird is no help at all. The fact is that nobody has won, so nobody can have prizes.

That’s what the negotiations in Cairo were actually about: prizes. Hamas’s leaders in Gaza were demanding an end to the Israeli blockade of the territory and the opening of air and sea ports in the Gaza Strip. They also wanted over 200 Hamas members in the West Bank who had been arrested just before the start of this war to be released. They might as well have asked for the Moon.

Hamas has fired almost 6,000 of its homemade rockets at Israel since the start of the war, but it has killed only two Israeli civilians (plus one Thai guest-worker). It doesn’t represent even a serious danger to Israel, let alone an existential threat. So why would any sane Palestinian negotiator think that Israel would feel compelled to make major concessions to Hamas in order to make the pain stop?

The Israeli negotiators were equally deluded. They understandably dismissed all of Hamas’s demands, but then they made equally ludicrous demands of their own. They wanted Hamas and all other militant Palestinian organisations in the Gaza Strip to be completely disarmed. That would not only end any possibility that the Palestinians could exert military pressure on Israel; it would also quite soon end Hamas’s rule in the Gaza Strip.

Why would Hamas agree with that? Over 2,000 people have been killed and more than 8,000 injured by Israel’s strikes on the Gaza Strip, but that’s less than one per cent of the population. Moreover, when the Israeli army actually invaded Gaza on the ground (to destroy the famous “terror tunnels”), Hamas fighters managed to kill 64 Israeli soldiers.

That was a particularly futile waste of Israeli lives, since it is hard to believe that 64 of Israel’s troops would ever have been killed by random Hamas fighters coming out of undiscovered tunnels from time to time. Ordinary Israelis, with nightmare visions of terrorists popping up in their gardens, have bought the official line that the sacrifice was worthwhile, but none of the tunnels actually extended more than a couple of kilometres beyond Gaza’s border.

The Palestinians doubtless think that killing more Israeli soldiers than in the previous two wars combined was some sort of success, even if they lost many more fighters themselves, but in the real world it does not give them any military advantage. So no concessions from either side of any kind.

This was quite foreseeable from the first day of the war, because that’s the way the last two wars ended too. They have all been fought mainly to serve the domestic political interests of the two governments, rather than to force real concessions out of the other.

Hamas’s strategic situation is peculiar: it is very weak and cannot hurt Israel, but it is virtually indestructible. Israel can hammer the population of the Gaza Strip as much as it likes, but that will only strengthen their support for Hamas. Whereas Israel is enormously powerful, but cannot defeat Hamas unless it is willing to re-occupy the Gaza Strip — which would lead to a steady and ultimately intolerable drain of casualties among the occupying Israeli troops.

The moves in this relationship are as stately and predictable as a minuet. When Hamas is under political pressure at home and needs a distraction, it launches a few rockets at Israel or provides some other provocation that the Israeli government cannot ignore. Then the Israeli government, under irresistible domestic pressure to “do something”, launches some air-strikes, and the dance of death recommences.

Stopping is more difficult, because there’s no music to give you the signal by coming to an end.  In terms of domestic politics, both sides have already accomplished what they came for — but since neither can acknowledge publicly that that’s all the war was really about, they end up raising wholly unrealistic demands at the cease-fire talks. That’s why the negotiations in Cairo ended in failure: nobody has won, so nobody can have prizes.

Now that the shooting has started up again, there may be a few more hundred deaths — but probably not another thousand, because the fighting really is going to end soon. It just won’t end with a political deal, and perhaps not even with a formal cease-fire. More likely it will just sort of peter out, like these things sometimes do. Until next time.

Just Posted

Interior Health is reporting a COVID-19 exposure at Selkirk Secondary in Kimberley. Bulletin file.
COVID-19 case identified at Selkirk Secondary in Kimberley

Interior Health is conducting contact tracing

The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League met for their AGM and announced a number of new initiatives, new awards and changes in their executive committee, as well as the starting date for the 2021-22 season. Paul Rodgers file.
KIJHL announces start dates for 2021-22 season

Season set to begin Oct. 1 with league still following all health guidelines

Calvin Dickson photo.
Severe thunderstorm watch in effect for East Kootenay

Conditions favourable for the development of thunderstorms, hail and heavy rain

The Independent Investigations Office of BC is looking into a Castlegar incident. File photo
Police watchdog investigating Castlegar incident

IIO: Woman sustained a reportedly self-inflicted injury

After being forced to cancel in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Wasa Triathlon is being organized for August. Bulletin file photo.
Information released for Gerick Sports Wasa Triathlon scheduled for August

In 2020 the COVID pandemic forced the Gerick Sports Wasa Triathlon to… Continue reading

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

Two hundred and fifteen lights are placed on the lawn outside the Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., Saturday, June, 13, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Days after Kamloops remains discovery, Tk’emlups families gather to unite, move ahead

‘We have to work together because this is going to be setting a precedent for the rest of the country’

In this Saturday, May 29, 2021, file photo, people crowd the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, Calif. California, the first state in America to put in place a coronavirus lockdown, is now turning a page on the pandemic. Most of California’s coronavirus restrictions will disappear Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
With COVID tamed, it’s a ‘grand reopening’ in California

No more state rules on social distancing, no more limits on capacity, no more mandatory masks

x
It’s hard out there for a billionaire

I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that while many, many people… Continue reading

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

B.C. ambulance station in Revelstoke is expected to get a new system called the Scheduled On-Call (SOC) this fall. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
B.C. ambulance changes could put Revelstoke residents at risk, warn local paramedics

Paramedics said to expect a substantial increase in ambulance response time starting this fall

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

Most Read